As Covid-19 incidence rates continue to fall in the US, UK, and EU with ongoing vaccinations, countries are lifting travel restrictions. The EU previously announced fully vaccinated Americans could travel this summer and regional EU travellers could potentially use an EU Digital COVID Certificate as early as July 1.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and digital identity adoption at a rate few could have believed possible prior to 2020. For example, the EU plans digital ID wallet for people in the region to access social services after the pandemic.
On a related note, Covid-19 vaccination passes are becoming a necessity for economies to begin recovery safely. Whether it is the Excelsior Pass for New York State or the IATA's Travel Pass for international flights, there is a pressing need for individuals to quickly share their vaccination status for everything from travel to restaurant bookings depending on local regulations. The challenge with many current solutions is portability.
The pandemic increased public vigilance on privacy concerns, especially when it comes to digital services. For example, contact tracing apps were scrutinized for their data collection policies and approaches to anonymizing data. In order to address public concerns and drive adoption, some apps were open-sourced. Ireland's open-source COVID Tracker app that was donated to the Linux Foundation and Germany's open-source Corona Warn App outlines how decentralized data storage preserves privacy.
At the same time, social distancing has driven the adoption of digital services and upgrades in online identity verification. A month into the 2020 lockdown, the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) authorized financial institutions to perform identity verifications with selfies for customers. In the past year, this trend of using facial recognition and biometrics for identity verification has only accelerated and gained adoption outside finance, such as when mobility platforms required drivers to take selfies for identity verification to prove they had masks or helmets.
The increasing digitalization of services and consumer awareness of data handling and privacy will drive demand for user-friendly and secure digital identity management that gives power back to individuals in how they share their credentials.
As vaccinations began in early 2021, it was no surprise that consumers, businesses, and governments were thinking about vaccine passports, which immediately raised privacy concerns.
Nevertheless, the discussion was never about if, but about how, these credentials for vaccination would be adopted to support global recovery. Privacy concerns drove solutions developers to be more accountable, such as the IATA's Travel Pass design to store information locally on the user's phone and allowing partner airlines only to access the data for verification purposes.
Governments have also sponsored passes in an effort to provide assurance for reopening businesses, New York's Excelsior Pass being one of the bes-known examples to push the reopening of venues, restaurants, and other in-person services.
However, both industry and regionally focused passes ultimately lead to compromised end user experiences because they are not portable or interoperable. In short, consumers need to download multiple apps and may not even be able to upload their information if it is not their home region. This leads to a fragmented digital identity that is not portable between use cases or regions.
For now, the EU Digital Covid Digital Certificate makes no mention of integrating vaccination documentation outside the EU, meaning that American CDC vaccination cards cannot be processed. Interoperability is a common challenge for health care data.
Both the tracing apps and early vaccine passports are trends in the right direction. However, consumers need a unified way to not only prove who they are, but provide credentials to prove their claims, such as a vaccination status depending on the jurisdiction they are in. To do this, consumers need digital identity and document verification services that are cross-border and can be easily adopted.
This requires a horizontal identity layer that is not tied to one industry vertical and has cross-platform support for rapid adoption. As vaccinations continue at different rates in countries, individuals will need to prove again and again their vaccination status for everything from international flights to local concerts. Both the continued dependence on digital services and the need for identity verification will pave the way for Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI).
The Covid-19 vaccination passes is a milestone opportunity to set up an effective Self-Sovereign Identity management system that is cross-border and industry agnostic for global consumers.
Image credit: Open-Measure
SSI can introduce more a humane approach to cross-border digital identity management for end users and a more secure one for businesses and service providers. An individual has control over their own digital identity, can add attributes (such as additional documents), and consent to sharing certain attributes with third-parties for different scenarios (such as their Covid-19 vaccination status).
Businesses will also benefit from a cross-sector and cross-border identity layer. It is ultimately inefficient for a tour operator or conference to integrate multiple regional vaccination pass solutions just for verification. Instead, it makes more sense for a business to integrate one identity solutions provider that can also check for vaccination statuses. Using a third-party provider also mitigates the risk of storing customer health data that has regulatory considerations and liability risk.
Ultimately, a business (or service provider) wants to have some assurance that the customer is vaccinated and that they are who they claim to be. The faster they can integrate this solution, the more they can serve consumers in a world transitioning past Covid-19, thereby growing business and driving SSI adoption.
Ultimately, both consumer and businesses need to have a solution that can provide assurance. An SSI solution would help with the following needs:
- As a consumer, I want to quickly authorize the sharing information, like my CDC vaccination status, to access a service.
- As a business, I want to integrate a service today into my customer flow, whether it is on mobile or web, that can verify the customer's vaccination status.
A commonly accepted online identity verification method today for everything from FinTech to property rentals is using biometrics, taking a selfie, and submitting an official government ID. If additional documents are requested, these are added to the digital identity. This creates a digital identity that has:
- a person's unique biometrics (the selfie matched to the government ID photo)
- identifying details (name, date of birth, address in the government ID)
- additional documents or credentials (such as health insurance number, vaccination status, etc.)
The customer owns this information and can choose to share it with a business when they are performing an identity verification. A business gets the assurance they need, without the added risk of storing sensitive customer data.
Today, teams can choose between no-code/low-code identity verification solutions with a hosted link, SDKs and APIs supported by Passbase meaning that both small-businesses setting up Shopify stores and global brands have accessible options.
Attaching a vaccination card as a document to a person's digital identity enables an end user to be able to share this document with whomever they like.
The vaccination card being attached to an individual's digital identity reduces the chances of fraud because in places like the US, forging a CDC vaccination card is a crime.
Travel industry and adjacent businesses that are looking to serve global customers, such as vaccinated Americans, should consider performing online identity verification and adding vaccination card scans to not only build trust with customers, but also to meet requirements in their home country.
The movement of people is essential — for business and economies and for individual quality of life. People who travel are used to presenting their passports to move freely between countries.
The desire to continue doing so, safely in the era of Covid-19, requires using technology that allows us to share our personal information for verification while preserving our privacy after a transaction. This is an opportunity for SSI to cement its foothold and rebuild online trust to enable businesses and markets to re-open.
Passbase helps you verify users securely and perform all the necessary checks in a matter of seconds, including a CDC vaccination card scan. Developers can get started in a matter of hours with our suite of mobile and web friendly SDKs and an API. You can also start testing identity verification with a free trial.